“Seth caused his phallus to become stiff and inserted it between Horus’s thighs. Then Horus placed his hands between his thighs and received Seth’s semen…” – Translated from Papyrus I, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
There was porn in ancient Egypt. Some of it survives, on incalculably valuable parchment. There was porn circulating all over the place in ancient Rome. The hallmark of that particular empire’s smut was – not too surprisingly, given the world-eating nature of the populace – a decided leaning toward domination, if not outright sadism. There was too what we would consider quite a lot of gay porn passed around in ancient Greece. Much of it decorated vases, and some of it – as in Aristophanes’ 411 BC comedy, Lysistrata – took place on the stage, albeit softly and in the garb of political satire.
Moving right along: in the late 1400’s , a man named Guttenberg retooled an olive press and changed the world. Printed matter was born, and mass distribution was soon yapping at its heels.
Some things are just meant to go together. Even if it takes a very, very long while. Dirty pictures, dirty stories, were in short order a hot commodity. They may not have taken pride-of-place in the stalls on market day. Yet it’s not much of a leap to speculate that, under the table loaded with bootleg copies of Marco Polo’s Journal, transactions of a different nature were made between the farmer and the printer/seller. It wasn’t exactly the Information Age. It matters not. Homemade printing presses in a lot of stables and cellars were beginning to supply a voluminous demand. Most history books demurely bypass this unattractive branch of the printing revolution. The day of mass-produced pornography, however, was dawning.
(Note: pornography, as such, is a Christian concept and therefore not truly applicable to the doodlings and scribblings of the ancients. Nor does the tag apply to even all modern Western societies. Call it what you will, though, the fact remains: a great deal of evidence exists pointing to an age-old predilection of mankind to witness people having sex. That said, we go on, connecting the dots.)
Wherever and whenever there is pornographic material to be had, there will come men. Women find it as well, in all fairness. But not in such herds, and their involvement calls for gargantuan sidebars which we must, at least for now, set aside. Be it dirty movie house, adult book store, or ‘mature’ section in the rear of the local video rental, gay men and their straight brethren alike will beat a path to its door. It is as well safe to assume that the man wishing to get some five hundred years ago had the two options available to the man of twenty years ago: sneak it home, or take advantage of its uplifting content while on the dealer’s premises. Some took home. But a lot more didn’t.
When men are exposed to pornography, they are customarily in a state open to arousal. They are, also, somewhat protected in the environment displaying it: the advantage to daring to enter a shameful place is that shame – or its evil twin, exposure – does not exist within. These places have always been a haven of sorts to the gay man, a room where the outside world’s problems with his inclinations mean very little, and where he can happily expect to run into likeminded gentlemen.
Something else goes on in such dens, something to fuel the gay man’s journey to them: the straightest of straight men go a little crazed with lust in adult bookstores. More than a few then entertain ways of alleviating it they would not normally deem decent, if even possible. Yes, they have sex with other men. This is no gay agitprop, nor is it wishful thinking. It is what happens.
“…the wonderful anonymity provided by the net encourages exploration previously too dangerous to venture…”
Thus, for quite a long time, from the Thebes residence where erotic drawings could be had for a secret knock on the door and a drachma, to Sal’s Discount XXX Warehouse off I-95, all kinds of men have traveled a little ways or many miles to get some relief. Some come in gay and leave gayer; some are purely heterosexually driven and exit unchanged; and some set out straight and take a turn in the video booth. Some attend to their own business, while others look for a little clandestine assistance. But the object has always been the same, and the means to this end, Mr. Guttenberg’s dazzling invention notwithstanding, has always necessitated going out. Until just lately.
Only two or three dots remain. But they are fat ones.
The 1980’s. The home PC and the internet begin to shake the ground under everyone’s feet. By the ‘90’s, the amount of smut online is a joke too tired for the Tonight Show. It is a revolution, to be sure. People who charge fat fees as experts have told us that preoccupations with pornography and sex online are responsible for failed marriages, lost jobs, variously exacerbated and sometimes crippling disorders, and bankruptcies far and wide. We shake our heads at these things. All that misery, all that upheaval, from a box, a screen and a keyboard?
And then some, we’re afraid. For it is still too early in the reign of the modern internet to gauge what the long term damage will be. We can’t yet know just how many spanking new, communication-oriented and social/behavioral interaction disorders we’ll see crop up, when the teens currently uploading naked images of themselves get a little older. But the harvest, citizens, will be plentiful.
Which brings us back to the last, big-ass dot. We have in fact just passed it.
Setting aside everything the internet has brought to the world and stripped from it, an indisputable fact remains, and one awfully pertinent to our purposes here: it allows virtually any man to access, from his home, what for thousands of years had to be walked to, arrived at by mule cart, or driven to. The married guy merely has to close the door to the den and tell the family he’s checking his e-mails; the single man can turn the speakers way up and lie to no one. And, just as in the brick-and-mortar porn shops, the smut is the milder of the enticements offered. Because, just as in the brick-and-mortar porn shops, real men are occupying the same space at the same time. The gay men found in this arena are just as eager to make it real as are the boys in the downtown porno arcade. With one another or with an adventurous straight soul, and within the hour. As has been noted, straight often gets less straight in this territory. In such a climate, and under such omnipresent circumstances, the unthinkable gets…thought about.
Exponentially, then, today’s gay male traffic utterly dwarfs yesterday’s cruising. So too does the graph line indicating the curious element spike off the chart. A lusty fellow of 1977, straight as can be, may have paused once or twice when seeing those explicit offers from other men scrawled on the walls of the video arcade. But he’s got those walls in front of him every day now. Moreover, it appears that a multitude of his pals are wondering about sex with other men. And why not? They are perfectly free to, as free as the completely out gay man messaging them in the chat rooms; the wonderful anonymity provided by the net encourages exploration previously too dangerous to venture.
Thousands and thousands of men, every hour, in every city. In every country. It is a bonanza for the gay man. It is too much for the persuadable straight man. No Adult Palace was ever this busy. A drastic change in quantity alters quality; the morality shifts; it is all thinkable.